DETROIT --- While Google’s gumdrop-shaped self-driving car is logging thousands of miles on the streets of California, don’t expect to jump in the backseat of a Toyota anytime soon for a robot-chauffeured ride.
“Our belief is that a human driver must always be behind the wheel,” Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America, said today at the Automotive News World Congress.
A Toyota or Lexus vehicle with highway self-driving abilities won’t arrive until 2020 at the earliest, Lentz said, and a fully autonomous vehicle is even farther off -- 2023 to 2025.
As Toyota sees it, 96 percent of fatal car accidents involve the driver, so if any automaker can build systems that intervenes in any degree to prevent or mitigate the collision, it can have a dramatic impact on safety, even without completely autonomous driving.
“We don’t see a day coming soon where you can just hop in the back seat, pull out your newspaper and scan the headlines while your car takes you to work,” Lentz said.
Instead Toyota wants to ease autonomous features into its vehicles over the next decade and use them to enhance a driver’s skills, reduce accidents and increase mobility for people who don’t currently have it -- such as aging Baby Boomers or disabled people.
Toyota has pledged to invest $1 billion over the next five years in artificial intelligence and robotics r&d to support those objectives. It’s also spending $50 million to set up artificial intelligence research centers in Stanford and MIT.
Asked about promises by other automakers -- particularly Volvo -- that it will cut deaths in its vehicles to zero by 2020, Lentz said the goal was laudable but seemed too ambitious.
“I’m not sure if 2020 is realistic,” he said. “But I think that’s why we’re all driving towards autonomy.”
He added: “If there’s a way that we can override some poor decisions that are made, we are going to save a lot of lives and we won’t have accidents to begin with.”